Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Blackfish and the Animal Kingdom

Sea World is having a problem, and thy name is Blackfish.  For those that don't know, Blackfish is the documentary about the death of Sea World trainer, Dawn Brancheau by the orca, Tilikum.  It also delves into the related topics of the OSHA investigation thereafter and the corresponding restrictions imposed on the theme park as a result.  But it doesn't stop there.  The documentary shows how Tilikum was captured in the 1980's, and it isn't pretty.  Boats are shown cutting the orca calf off from its pod and mother to capture.  It also discussed possible harassment and terrible living conditions at other sealife parks.

And, of course, the orcas in captivity have flopped over fins, for some unknown reason - proof positive for some that killer whales should not be in captivity and, to be blunt, I agree. They are used to covering large territories of water, not be cooped up in small pool. The movie makes it clear, to me at least, that the animals suffer psychologically from that. Smart land animals, like gorillas for example, do much better in my opinion. A gorilla will stay close to a food source so even if you took down the walls so to speak, it probably wouldn't go far. Plus, they are able to live in social groups much like they would in the wild. Its a close approximation. Not so with the orca who will travel miles in a day in the open ocean. Life in the pool also seems to effect the way they socialize. Its simply not a close approximation.

Blackfish premiered about a year ago at the Sundance film festival.  But it really took off this summer when it was picked up by CNN films in their new programming plan.  Since then the backlash has been bad for the park.  When was the last time a theme park cut its prices?  Several musical acts like the Barenaked Ladies and Willie Nelson have backed out of playing at festivals in the park due to the film.  It has even already affected Disney.  John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton have apparently altered the ending of the upcoming film, Finding Dory, after speaking with the director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite.

Perhaps what's worse is that Sea World is taking a "let's stick our head in the sand and wait for this to blow over approach."  They don't even really comment on the bands pulling out of shows and their attack on the film is basically to say it's not completely true.  To be fair, it's not fair.  Some of the criticisms levied at Sea World are ancient history.  Sure, the way they captured whales in the 70's and 80's was atrocious but they haven't done that in a long time.  And we can't lose sight of what the park does.  The world needs the oceans, for food, for the climate, heck even for oxygen.  And the park is an important aspect of teaching just that.  It does a lot for rehabilitation, too.  Manatees who suffer greatly from injuries with collisions with boats are routinely rescued by Sea World staff.  And that goes for sea turtles, as well.

But what does this mean for Disney and the Animal Kingdom?  Potentially quite a bit.  Animal rights groups like PETA see Disney as an ideal target.  It's huge and it's in the news, so attacks on them will get press, more so then even Sea World.  Disney has gone the extra mile in making sure its facilities for animals are top of the line.  No one, and I mean no one, can compare in that department.  Even world class zoological institutions like the San Diego Zoo and the Bronx Zoo have exhibits and buildings that are a bit outdated and in need of some work.  But those places just don't have the resources of Disney. Disney from the beginning tried to appease animal rights groups. It just didn't want to deal with that if at all possible. They made it well known just how much they cared about the animals well being and how much they were willing to spend to make sure the animals were cared for in the best possible manner. They also gathered a group of zoo experts to help design every aspect of animal care and exhibitry.

Maybe those concerns that were so prevalent in the early days of the park have subsided, but you can bet Disney doesn't want its own Blackfish.  Not that long ago, we discussed on Radio Harambe, the possibility of adding giant pandas to the park, and to be fair this has been rumored for some time.  But my wife, when she listened, said she doesn't think Disney would do it because they don't want their own Blackfish.  And she very well may be right here.  Giant pandas are a big draw for certain.  But they are also big news and a big pain.

Media coverage of pandas at Disney would be significant.  There are no more beloved zoo animals in the world. They are giant fluffy teddy bears that you really can't find except in a few places. But the animals are hard to care for.  The National Zoo has had so much trouble with theirs.  Several cubs were born only to die within a few days. Zoos hate it when animals die. A, its just sucky and b, its bad press. Its why some zoos won't publicly name animals. The public might not notice the giraffe looks a little different than the one that was there before, but if Zippy the Giraffe dies well, that's bad news. There is no way to hide the death of a giant panda.  Could you imagine the problems that would cause for Disney?  Unfortunately, it happens, animals die.  And when it's a super high profile one, that makes the news. And that's news Disney doesn't want anything to do with.

by Safari Mike (@JamboEveryone)

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I hadn't even considered how the whole Blackfish debacle might affect Disney and the Animal Kingdom. I have yet to watch the documentary, but I know that Sea World does a lot of good despite a perhaps unsavory past (as you mentioned). I hope that this won't affect the possibility of pandas at the Animal Kingdom; to house such an exotic and rare animal would present valuable education opportunities (and a heck of a lot of cuteness).